Ted S. Warren  /  AP file
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire
updated 5/11/2005 3:38:28 PM ET 2005-05-11T19:38:28

Gov. Christine Gregoire got elected last year by just 129 votes, and her hold on the office is under legal attack. But she is governing as if she won by a landslide.

“You know, I didn’t come here to be shy,” said the former state attorney general who battled breast cancer, the tobacco industry, corporate polluters and finally a surprisingly tough Republican opponent on her road to the governor’s mansion.

While waiting for the next chapter to unfold in a small-town courtroom, Gregoire has shown a spark that was missing from her campaign.

She was a major player in the just-concluded Legislature, recast the state bureaucracy and tackled a looming drought. And although she campaigned on a vaguely worded anti-tax platform, she pushed through a multibillion-dollar gas-tax increase for roads and a package of sin taxes to boost the state budget.

Fellow Democrats are rhapsodic about her feisty start, figuring it burnishes her image for a possible do-over election.

GOP sees 'fake governor'
The Republicans are branding her an illegitimate, tax-and-spend liberal.

State GOP Chairman Chris Vance called her “our fake governor, our temporary, placeholder governor.” Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman called her “a weasel and a liar” on taxes.

And her GOP rival for governor, millionaire former state Sen. Dino Rossi, said Gregoire “just confirmed everything I said in the campaign. I said she’d raise taxes, and here she is.”

Independent pollster Stuart Elway said that by March, nearly two-thirds of the voters had accepted the election results and opposed a new vote. No new polls have been taken. In the meantime, he said, Gregoire has projected “a stronger, sharper image than she had before.”

Democrats said that could help her if Rossi persuades the courts to order a new election. The trial opens in Chelan County, apple country on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, on May 23.

Last fall, Rossi won the first count and a machine recount, but after a hand recount, Gregoire was declared the winner by a scant 129 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The Republicans say that the election was fraught with errors, including votes by felons and dead people, and that it is impossible to know who really won.

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'Stay focused'
Gregoire, in the meantime, said she is trying to govern as if she had a mandate.

“I wish it’d go away, is how I feel about it, so we can move on — me, the family, the whole state. But that isn’t going to happen,” she said. “So now it’s my job to just stay focused on being governor.”

She prepared for two foreign trade missions; commissioned studies on education funding, election reform, and long-term care; began an overhaul of children’s services; sacked 1,000 middle managers; turned off the Capitol fountain; and told bureaucrats to start writing in plain English, saying bluntly, “Change is here.”

She also proposed the first tax increase in 12 years, a $200 million package to help education. She struck at an old adversary, the tobacco industry, with an 80-cent-a-pack increase on cigarettes, and imposed a new estate tax to replace one thrown out by the state’s high court. Her fellow Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature, seized on her plan and pumped it up to $500 million.

Then Gregoire helped push through a 9.5-cent gas tax increase over the next four years.

Political scientists say Gregoire has energized her Democratic base, including labor, environmentalists, gays, and education and human service advocates.

Although the tax increases might leave her vulnerable if Rossi gets the rematch he wants, Gregoire said: “If I had won by a landslide, I would have been the same.”

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